If you want to make an evangelical nervous, mention the concept of good works. But speaking of good works should feel life-giving.
Protestant Christians rightly recognize that God’s people are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, but that faith — as many have said — is never alone. Good works are not the basis of salvation, but the evidence of it. A major theme of Titus is the correlation between faith and action, and good works are commended repeatedly (Titus 2:1-10; Titus 2:14; Titus 3:1-2, etc.) We are saved by grace but saved to work.
But what are good works?
Good Works: A Simple Definition
When we think of good works, we think of preaching a sermon, going on a missions trip, or feeding the poor. No doubt, these make the cut. But restricting good works to the big spiritual things we do demonstrates a limited view on good works. Good works are not only for the spiritual elite, but things any Christian can do every day regardless of where you are in your sanctification. If we think too narrowly of good works, we won’t see the spiritual significance of daily mundaneness. Our lives may even start to feel devoid of meaning, despite professing Christ. Sure, we have extraordinary days here and there where we so obviously sense being used by God, but most days aren’t like this. Most days, instead, are dry, mundane, and rather ordinary.
But you can still do good works on these days.
In his book, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done, Matt Perman argues that doing good works is the essence of Christian productivity.
“Good works are anything you do in faith” (77).
“What is a good work? Anything that does good and is done in faith”(77).
“Hence, we can redefine productivity this way: to be productive is to be fruitful in good works” (74).
“According to the Scriptures, good works are not simply the rare, special, extraordinary or super-spiritual things we do. Rather, they are anything we do in faith.” (77)
Considering Perman’s thoughts, our definition of good works will be as follows: good works are anything you do in faith to glorify God and serve others.
Some examples of good works:
- Encouraging a friend.
- Sending an edifying email.
- Packing your spouse’s lunch.
- Assembling toys for children.
- Picking up lunch for co-workers.
- Listening to your neighbor’s burden.
Having a broad understanding of good works is not meant to downplay the spiritual good works we do like evangelizing and praying for others, but simply widens our comprehension of good works to include seemingly non-spiritual activities as well. This is also not meant to minimize the desires and ambitions you have to serve God and others in a big way, like through planting a church or writing a book, but simply serves to show that you don’t have to wait until your big dreams are fulfilled to start doing good now.
When I was in seminary, a few seminarian wives felt as if their life was on hold during those three or four years while their husbands were formally studying theology. They left family, careers, and friends to put their life on hold, they thought, until her husband got a ministry call. Likewise, some of us seminarians believed that our lives were on hold until we became pastors and professors and campus ministers. This thinking is understandable but untrue. Your life is never on hold, not even in graduate school. The Apostle Paul continued to do good even while in prison. Every season, every day, every second is ordained by God who purposely places you in each situation and expects you to be doing good works right now, whether you like your circumstances or not. Never think, “When I get to place X in life, then my life will start, and then I will start doing the good works God has in store for me.” No, God has good works for you to walk into today.
Christian productivity is about faithful stewardship. It’s about using your spiritual gifts, talents, and time to glorify God and do good for others. You can’t do something about every issue in the world, but you can be faithful with the opportunities God places in your path right now— and this is when you will be doing the good works God created you to do. “Do all the good you can,” John Wesley says, “by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”
So today, Christian, be on the lookout to do good works that God has already prepared for you to walk into (Ephesians 2:10). You are probably making a bigger difference than you realize.
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